Saturday, February 9, 2013

Filling The Catching Black Hole

Quick, name the Astros leader in fWAR at the catcher position over the last 10 years.

If you said Humberto Quintero, well done. Liar. Or you might have looked it up. Cheater. 

The Astros, even before they were pretty bad all across the field, have not been good at catcher. The last time an Astros catcher exceeded 2 WAR was 2000, with Mitch Meluskey. Remember him? And 3 WAR? That would be Craig Biggio in 1991. But the last 10 years have been especially abysmal. Between 2002 and 2012, Astros catchers have accumulated a total of 3.2 WAR. That's right. Every game, from every player who has donned the tools of ignorance for the Astros over the last 10 years, has amounted to just 3 wins over a replacement player. Fangraphs should just define replacement level as "Astros catchers." No other position on any other team comes close, except for first baseman on the Orioles, with 3.5. Lets all laugh at the Orioles for a while. That feels good. 

The bulk of the at bats over this time went to my mother's favorite player, Brad Ausmus. Earlier in his career, Ausmus was a useful player, combining stellar defense with an adequate bat. But between 2003 -2008, he was among the worst everyday hitters in the majors, and his defense was not really helping him anymore. But he still maintained his boyish good looks. Or so I've been told. After he left, I am pretty sure there were entire weeks where the Astros just forgot to start a catcher. Led to a lot of passed balls. When they did start a catcher, it was usually our good friend Humberto, but the list also included Pudge Rodriguez, J.R. Towles and several other names which Fangraphs most definitely did not make up. Whatever they tried, it didn't work. Unless they were trying to not add value to the team through the catcher's position. Then it worked like gangbusters.

Is there hope of the horizon? Why yes. And I think it might actually be on the current roster.

I get the sense that many have soured on Jason Castro. After missing all of 2011 with a knee injury, he started off slowly in 2012, However, his offensive numbers at the end of the year were decent, thanks in part to a respectable .263/.343/.443 slash line in the second half. Digging even deeper, there are even more good signs. Castro hit .286/.373/.458 against righties, but was awful against lefties, to the tune of .148/.175/.185. Now, you can expect Castro to have some degree of lefty/righty splits, but not to that extent. The lefty numbers, over 54 at bats, are the very definition of a small sample, and are suppressed by a .235 BABIP. I expect some improvement there, and some improvement overall.

I fully expect improvement in Castro next year. But you might have noticed that Luhnow has had a penchant for acquiring young catchers during his time as GM. Jayne over at What the Heck, Bobby, has been has been running a series on minor league depth at each position. Her post on catcher depth shows a glut of 20-22 years old catchers, many of which were brought into the system in the last year.  And he added another one just days ago in Max Stassi.

Maybe, just maybe, between Jason Castro or one of these young guns, the black hole at catcher will be filled soon.